I’m ashamed to admit it, but at one time, I was addicted to Cliff Notes. Yes, in college, I bought Cliff Notes for some courses—you know the ones. They were the courses that had nothing to do with my major but were courses I had to take to graduate. Most of my knowledge of classic English Literature is not from reading or studying English Literature, but from devouring the Cliff Notes before the exam. (I think part of my shame is that Mom reads these posts every day. She thought I was a great student. Sorry Mom, Dickens really has never been my thing.)

It didn’t stop there, about 5 years ago, I tried one of these services that provides brief summaries of great business and other books. I didn’t have the time to read the originals, I thought I could “fake” my way through by reading the summaries.

Both the Cliff Notes and the book summaries were deceptive. I knew just enough to fake my way through conversations. I could smile and nod at the right places in a conversation. Every once in a while, I might make an “astute” comment about a key topic.

The problem was, I didn’t know enough to really be knowledgeable. For example, I couldn’t apply the lessons from some of the great business books. The surface knowledge I got through the summaries was insufficient to use and leverage in business situations. But I really didn’t understand things, I didn’t couldn’t understand the context, I wasn’t sensitive to the subtleties around the issues, I couldn’t go one or two levels deeper in a discussion about the issues.

In the end, taking those short cuts didn’t serve me. I couldn’t use any of the “knowledge” I had acquired in anything except casual cocktail party conversation.

Sometimes, the surface knowledge I had actually made me stupid. Since I didn’t have a deep understanding, I didn’t know how to correctly apply the principles. I’d leverage them in the wrong way, or use them incorrectly. Rather than helping me, it set me back.

Too often, I see sales people and managers doing the same thing. They look for the short cut, hacks, the tips/techniques. They don’t take the time to understand. They don’t dive into learning, practicing, mastering the things they need to be successful.

They run into the same problem I ran into. When they try to apply the technique or knowledge, they struggle. They only know the high points, but they can’t go deeper. The moment things start going off track, or they encounter resistance, they don’t have enough knowledge to deal with the situation.

The reality is there are no shortcuts to mastery. If we want to really excel, we have to continue to learn, apply what we learn, refine our practice based on experience.